UK, Canada impose sanctions on Belarus president, officials

Cover Image
Photo credit Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko salutes during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Lukashenko of Belarus has assumed his sixth term of office in an inauguration ceremony that wasn't announced in advance. State news agency BelTA reported that Wednesday's ceremony is taking place in the capital of Minsk, with several hundred top government official present. (Andrei Stasevich/Pool Photo via AP)
By The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Britain and Canada imposed sanctions Tuesday on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, his son and other senior government officials following the country's disputed presidential election and a violent crackdown on protesters in Belarus.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the sanctions were part of a coordinated approach with Canada “in a bid to uphold democratic values and put pressure on those responsible for repression.”

Raab called Lukashenko's rule “violent and fraudulent” and said the sanctions are meant to send a clear message that “we don’t accept the results of this rigged election.”

“We will hold those responsible for the thuggery deployed against the Belarusian people to account," he said.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron pushed Tuesday for European mediation in the Belarus political crisis after meeting with the ex-Soviet republic’s opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, during a visit to Lithuania.

The opposition in Belarus has challenged the results of the country’s Aug. 9 presidential election, which gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office. Opposition figures and some poll workers say the results were fraudulent. Since the vote, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets daily for more than seven weeks to demand his resignation.

The Belarus government has met the uproar with a violent crackdown on protesters and targeting the protest organizers. During the first few days, police arrested more than 7,000 people and beat protesters. Since then, opposition activists have been jailed and threatened with prosecution.

The British measures include a travel ban and asset freeze on eight officials from the Belarusian government, including Lukashenko, son Victor Lukashenko and Igor Sergeenko, the head of the presidential administration. Similar sanctions were imposed by Canada.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada and the U.K. acted in concert to ensure the sanctions have a greater impact.

“Canada stands in solidarity with the people of Belarus as they struggle to restore human rights and achieve democracy in their country,” Champagne said.

The British government said Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for over 26 years, is the first leader sanctioned under Britain’s new global human rights sanctions program, which was introduced in July.

After a meeting Tuesday with Macron, Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko's exiled opponent, told reporters that the French leader “promised us to do everything to help with negotiations, for this political crisis in our country.” Macron also pledged to do all he could to help release political prisoners in Belarus, she said.

Tsikhanouskaya went into exile in Lithuania after the Belarusian presidential election.

“We had a very good discussion. Now we need to be pragmatic and to support Belarus people and we will do all that,” Macron told reporters.

Macron hoped that EU sanctions against Belarus officials will be adopted at the next European Union summit, according to Tsikhanouskaya’s advisor, Franak Vyachorko.

The EU said last week it does not recognize Lukashenko as president, but EU foreign ministers failed to impose sanctions on Belarus officials suspected of election fraud or of playing a part in the brutal crackdown on protesters.

Whether the bloc imposes sanctions will depend on whether member state Cyprus changes its position during the EU summit this week. Cyprus has so far insisted it won’t agree to sanctions on Belarus unless the bloc also imposes sanctions on Turkey in a separate dispute.

Lukashenko has defied calls for him to step down or for outside experts to help mediate the crisis.

Many prominent members of a council formed with the aim of arranging a transfer of power in Belarus have been arrested or have fled the country. The protests have persisted despite daily detentions of demonstrators, including 500 protesters detained last weekend.

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Corbet reported from Paris. Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Daria Litvinova in Moscow, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Sam Petrequin in Brussels contributed to the story.

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Follow all AP stories on developments in Belarus at https://apnews.com/Belarus